The Columbus Blue Jackets season isn’t going quite as planned. In a vacuum, this record would be as predicted in preseason, but an extraordinary start was followed by the pendulum promptly swinging the other direction and sending the team sputtering down the standings. Make no mistake, in the current organizational climate, they will be sellers at the looming trade deadline. That means some pieces will be moved to bring in future assets.
Max Domi had come alive this season. He was brought to Ohio in exchange for the much-loved Josh Anderson expected to have a return to form. His first campaign with the squad was on the weaker side, as he was struggling with injuries. He came to camp this year ahead of schedule and was a force early on, with nine points through his first eight games.
However, since then, Domi has cooled quite a bit, with a goal and an assist in his last eleven games, with a minus-9 rating through that stretch. He’s been stuck on the sidelines on more than one night, hit once by the injury bug, and in COVID protocol for a total of ten games missed. He has bounced around flanking the middle-six of the lineup, bringing an energy to a lineup that at times could use more.
While he’s slowed a little, Domi does seem like a player who thrives after some sort of new start. He was hot starting his career in Arizona, then once he was traded to Montreal he had a strong start, and then this season in Columbus had a strong start to his last season before hitting the unrestricted free agent market, before cooling towards the middle of the season.
He seems like the kind of player that would explode in a new opportunity on almost any team that would be considered a buyer at the deadline. Son of NHL enforcer Tie Domi, Max brings a name brand that few other talents in the league have, which makes him a piece that many will have their eyes on. Here’s a look into three teams that would be prime candidates to take a gamble and add Domi.
Before we hop in, let’s recognize that Domi’s contract isn’t slight. His $5.3 million cap hit would likely need some salary retained or a bad contract coming the other way to be able to fit on a contender in the era of the COVID flat cap. However, Columbus’ Nick Foligno and David Savard trades at the deadline last year set the standard that they’re willing to make that move if need be and both of those moves netted the BJ’s a first-round pick. Now let’s get to it.
If Jim Rutherford were still running the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, I’d say this move would be a lock. The seemingly never-ending cup window for the Penguins seemed like it may have been closing, but after winning 15 of their last 17 games, they’re still in it.
They currently sit one spot out of the lead for the Metropolitan division and adding top talent to support their generational talents in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is far from out of the ordinary. Looking back through the years, Marian Hossa, Jerome Iginla, and most recently Jeff Carter – who has been a big part of the 2021-22 squad.
While the Penguins may be more apt to be in on the Joonas Korpisalo sweepstakes, with their backup goalie woes, taking a swing at a name-brand commodity in Max Domi would suit their modus operandi. The only issue would be the pieces coming back in return. The Pens have only had two first-round draft picks in their last nine seasons. And the only one they’ve had in the last five years, Samuel Poulin, seems far from being a blue-chip prospect.
As Pens’ reporter Taylor Haase told Mark Scheig in the latest Union Junction podcast, the prospect pool is pretty shallow. That leaves a package of draft picks and/or a lesser prospect or roster player on a bad contract coming back in return for Columbus’ most valuable asset.
This one will depend heavily on the next few weeks as to if the Oilers are trying to make a playoff push or completely write off a stinker of a season by the deadline. This is also a team that could be in on the Korpisalo sweepstakes as much as Domi. The rough goings as of late could see a bit of a bump from the arrival of highly touted 2020 first-rounder Dylan Holloway – but if the Oilers want to make a dent, they’ll need to make a substantial move. Domi fits that bill.
The Oilers roster is powered by its center-ice position. This generation’s version of Crosby and Malkin, in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, have slim to no help flanking them. Current injuries withstanding, the top-six wing slots are filled with Brendan Perlini, Kailer Yamamoto, Warren Foegele, and Jesse Puljujarvi. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t inspire confidence in my heart. Domi is a legitimate top-six option who could punch a little above his weight class if paired with the right linemate.
There’s also the Dave Tippett connection. Tippett, the Oilers’ bench boss, was the head coach of the Arizona Coyotes when Domi first broke into the league. If Edmonton is looking for a rental at the deadline, who better than a player the head coach is familiar with and has a better idea of how to deploy. Tippett has an idea of the style of game Domi would bring to the roster and he fits in with the gritty-skill type that they’ve cultivated with talents like Zach Hyman and Zack Kassian – although Domi’s ratio skews more to the skill side than the grit of those other two.
There are a few prospects in the Oilers system that could draw the eye of Blue Jackets brass – ie. Xavier Bourgault, Ty Tullio, Raphael Lavoie – but the likely return would be a package of picks and/or a bad contract.
New York Rangers
A big market to fit Domi’s big market personality – this is one team that has the market and contender status to re-sign Domi past the end of this season. The New York Rangers are one of the few teams in the NHL who are in a position to be a buyer at the deadline and also have the cap space to do something about it.
When looking at potential returns, one key name comes to mind, Russian top-prospect Vitali Kravtsov. Kravtsov has been estranged from the Rangers organization after refusing assignment to the American Hockey League and returning to Russia. He has lit up Russia’s top league since returning – showing he has a bounty of offensive upside. Depending on valuations, it could be a straight swap or a piece or two added to a side to make the deal work. Kravtsov would be a great fit with the growing contingent of Russians in the Columbus system including the likes of Vladislav Gavrikov, Yegor Chinakhov, and Kirill Marchenko.
Domi has some indirect ties to the Rangers organization through his father starting his career in the Big Apple. The Rangers are also set up pretty well to be a contender for the foreseeable future, so Domi, who has only made the playoffs once in his seven-year career could choose to hop on that bandwagon before it leaves the station.
Domi, who loved his time in Montreal, seems destined to land in a bigger market and a sign-and-trade wouldn’t be ridiculously out of the question in this instance. A sign-and-trade deal could increase the return substantially and make Kravtsov or another larger piece a more realistic option.
While we aren’t sure where or if Domi will be moved, one thing that is certain is that Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen will be among the busier GMs at this year’s trade deadline. There will be a lot to look forward to for a Blue Jackets team that is living a lot more in the future than in the present.
Writer covering the Columbus Blue Jackets for THW since August 2021.
Co-host of the Blue Jackets’ focused “Union Junction Podcast” on The Hockey Writers’ podcast network.
Also, a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.